Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Advice from the hotline...

The ASCL hotline is a completely confidential service available to answer members' questions on issues that arise in school/ college. The questions and answers below are based on real calls to the hotline. To protect confidentiality, all scenarios have been anonymised. If you need advice on a personal or professional issue, call 0116 299 1122 and ask for the hotline officer.

Cross examination

Q It has emerged that one of the teaching staff admitted to the examinations officer that she helped a pupil by commenting on her GCSE English exam script. The examinations officer wants me to report this to the exam board but I am not sure that it is in the best interests of the student or the teacher. It sounds as though the teacher was trying to help the student and did not realise at the time that what she did was wrong. It would be a lot easier all round if I gave her a verbal reprimand and monitored her conduct in the future.

A It might be easier, but it is not the right answer. Teachers who cheat in examinations - for this is what it is - even to try to help their students, are committing a serious professional offence and the matter must be dealt with formally. She should be reported to the examination board and an investigation should be mounted as part of a normal disciplinary procedure. At this stage she is not entitled to see the evidence against her. Keep in touch with the ASCL hotline as this develops if you need to.

Will my disability affect career prospects?

Q I am an assistant head. As the result of a recent accident, which left me with joint pain in my knees and some mobility limitations, I will have a degree of permanent physical disability that will affect my capacity to work. I have heard that employers must not discriminate against people with disabilities in job offers and terms of employment and so on, but how do I know if my disability is severe enough so that I fall under the protection of those laws?

A This question would usually only be raised at the point that a person believes that s/he has been discriminated against because of a disability, and it would be decided by an employment tribunal.

In general terms, a person will be regarded as being disabled for legal purposes, and fall under the protection of the law, if s/he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on her/his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

This could refer to mobility, manual dexterity, physical coordination, continence, ability to lift, carry or move everyday objects, speech, hearing, eyesight, memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand, or perception of risks of physical danger.

If it did come to an employment tribunal, you would need to provide evidence that your disability meets this criteria. This normally is provided by a medical expert such as your GP. Any impairment must have lasted for at least 12 months, or be reasonably expected to last for that period.

We would suggest, if you haven't already done so, that you speak with the deputy head or head about your disability and any adjustments that can be made to help you carry on working to the fullest extent possible. Most schools and colleges are reasonable and willing to do this.

Advice on extra curricular relationship

Q We recently found out that two staff members had been involved in a relationship for the last several months. Many of the other staff have been aware of it, but it became public knowledge when they announced that they were having a child and that they were leaving their respective partners to move in together. Can we ban workplace relationships?

A Many relationships begin and end in the working environment - schools and colleges or otherwise. Whilst most do not cause a problem, some can, especially if they become common knowledge among students and the wider community.

In practice, a ban on workplace relationships is likely to be unsuccessful, and may in fact be counterproductive, as it will lead to more secrecy about workplace liaisons. A relationship ban may also be in breach of the right to privacy under the Human Rights Act 1998.

A more effective option is to have clear guidelines for staff involved in office relationships about the standards of behaviour expected, and procedures in place to deal with problems if they arise.

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